Polish President Andrzej Duda said Wednesday that Poles will be able to travel to the U.S. without a visa starting next week, a move by the Washington administration that has been long awaited by the Poles who saw it as a matter of national dignity.
Duda said he was notified by the U.S. side that an official announcement would also be made Wednesday in Washington.
He said it was "important and good news" for the 37 million people in Poland and some 10 million Poles in the U.S.
Standing alongside U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, Duda said that starting Monday, Nov. 11 Poland's Independence Day Poles will not require visas for tourist or business trips of up to 90 days.
Both expressed joy at the announcement and Mosbacher said Duda had told her it was a matter of "national pride." "Mr. President, we've done it," Mosbacher said, calling it a Christmas present to the Poles.
Duda thanked President Donald Trump for including Poland in the visa-waiver program.
The decision comes after increased efforts by the current right-wing government and Mosbacher and after the refusal rate dropped to the required level of under 3% of visa requests.
A staunch U.S. ally and one of its closest partners in Europe, Poland has been waiting to be included in the visa waiver program since the 1990s, after it toppled the communist regime, and the long wait was frustrating.
"We felt treated a bit like second-class people even though we've had very good relations with the U.S." since the 18th century, said ruling party Senator Jan Maria Jackowski.
"Our honor and national pride have been somehow violated because the visa system is onerous," he said.
Visa-free travel means Poles will still need to enter data in an online registry system, but will no longer need to stand in lines to see a consul, and the fee is down to $14 from the previous $160.
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